Commentary: Road ends for Ed Speraw
When I moved to Delaware in 2003 after living in homes in Baltimore which had ground rents, I never thought I could lose my retirement nest egg and the new home I bought because Delaware law permitted it to happen. Fighting for change were a handful of homeowners in Sussex County led by Ed Speraw, Bill Reed and Charlie Gallagher. Founded in 1982 as the Sussex County Mobile Tenants Association, the advocates expanded statewide as the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association in 2002.
For 14 years until he retired in 2016, under Ed’s leadership, DMHOA has worked to change the predatory practices, inequities and injustices permitted by landlords under state law. William Kinnick now heads the organization.
As important this is to the low-income and senior homeowners frightened of losing their homes not supported by taxpayers, it hurts taxpayers and the Delaware economy unless laws are changed. Millions of dollars in rent increases are taken out of the hands of 40,000 to 50,000 homeowners and families who can’t spend it in the local businesses that state legislators pledge to help.
A native of Lebanon, Pa., Ed joined the Air Force at 18 in 1955. He had two tours in Vietnam with the Special Forces TAC Fighter Command until his discharge in 1968. A graduate of Penn State University, he was in the construction business for 40 years.
Speraw was available 24/7 as homeowners called him about problems at his home. It was not uncommon for Ed, who was licensed, to slide under a home of a senior who was unable to pay, to fix a problem. He would even correct a problem that was legally the responsibility of the landlord who refused to fix it. Delaware law has no meaningful penalties for community owners who break the existing laws.
As president of the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association, Speraw advocated for every beneficial law passed by the Delaware General Assembly since 1982. For more than a decade, his home was the DMHOA office, except for a few years. From time to time, he funded the organization from his own pocket.
Title 25, Chapter 70 law to protect homeowners on leased land is peppered with loopholes leaving the judges of the Delaware court to define the law. Otherwise, leased land homeowners would be bereft of any protection. As it is, the value of their homes continues to drop as rents rise.
Before Ed and his colleagues became involved, rents could be raised anytime. Now they can be raised only once a year. A change of land use could force the homeowners off the land rapidly. Now, a one-year notice is required.
The Relocation Trust Authority, another law successfully advocated by DMHOA, created a fund from additional rents paid by homeowners and landlords. The authority provides money to move homes in a change of land use or a small stipend for those who can’t move their home. Other flawed victories include a Manufactured Housing Committee in the House of Representatives, and a Right of First Offer law which allows residents to buy their communities, but proved to be a sham. In 2013, after years of unlimited rent increases, including during the recession, for any or no reason, the rent justification became law. It allows homeowners to seek arbitration.
In 2010, Ed was honored with the Governor’s Outstanding Community Volunteer Service Award. Gov. Jack Markell remarked, “We know you don’t do what you do for awards, but congratulations, Ed, for a long-overdue honor!”
The road has ended for Edwin (Ed) Speraw, 1937-2019, the tenacious defender of our nation and for beleaguered tenants who own homes on leased land. He leaves a yawning chasm in the ranks of Davids battling the Goliaths in fighting for the American dream.
Fred Neil represents the 3rd District in the Dover City Council.